Motivations for Undertaking the New Social Work Degree

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2 Introduction

2.1 Introduction and background

The care sector carries high public expectations in terms of the quantity and quality of service provision, however it also suffers from a poor image as an area of employment - there are perceived issues around pay and conditions, the nature of the work and training and/or management of employees. This has created a challenge for the Scottish Executive in terms of recruiting adequate numbers of new social care workers. The ageing population of Scotland adds to this challenge.

Evidence suggests that the Scottish Executive's communication strategy launched in October 2002 has had some positive impact on general attitudes towards a career in care services. 1 However there is still a large number of people in Scotland who perceive that training in the area is weak and that pay and conditions are poor. In addition there is a general perception that the government does not value care workers highly.

It is thought that these perceptions have led to recruitment and retention problems in the sector generally and in social work specifically. In order to address the recruitment and retention problems in social care and social work, the Scottish Executive has launched a series of measures through its Action Plan for the Social Services Workforce. These measures include: a recruitment and awareness 'Care in Scotland' campaign; the National Workforce Group to promote professional excellence in the sector; the Fast Track Scheme into Social Work for existing graduates; the Incentive Scheme (where up to £9k per newly qualified social worker may be paid as expenses towards costs incurred during training); a registration scheme to drive standards higher; and a Ministerial Review of Social Work. In addition to these measures, the Minister announced in January 2003 a new framework for social work education including a new, 4-year honours- degree level qualification.

The new degree for social work commenced in 2004 and is available at Paisley, Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian, Stirling and Robert Gordon universities. The new qualification combines academic study with practical experience of working with people. Over the duration of the undergraduate training, at least 200 days are spent working in the community. Studies involve various forms of assessment, from hands on practical evaluation to conventional assessments of knowledge. Tuition is in small groups involving project work or video teaching and community placements begin with observation and build up to more independent practical experience. University staff are mainly ex-social workers with practical experience to draw on. The course covers aspects of criminology, sociology, human growth and development, law, social policy and psychology, as well as many other areas.

The new Social Work Degree will gradually replace the Diploma in Social Work as the main qualification criteria for registrants of social work recognised by the Scottish Social Services Council ( SSSC).

Another qualification accredited by SSSC is the two-year full-time Masters Degree in Social Work. This postgraduate course combines academic study in social work with professional training for the award of the Diploma in Social Work ( DipSW). The course includes two mandatory periods of assessed practice (one of 70 days and one of 100 days) in approved social work agencies. Assessment of practice and academic work includes essays, projects, practice studies and other course work

In January 2005, the Social Work Services Policy Division of the Scottish Executive commissioned BMRB to undertake research to understand why social work students are undertaking the new social work degree. BMRB were asked to conduct research with first year social work students undertaking the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The research aims to help establish the impact of a number of schemes which have attempted to promote social work as a career in Scotland and have encouraged potential students to undertake the new course. A secondary aim of the research is to assess students' perceptions about, and aspirations for, social work, the findings from which will be used to inform the 21st Century Social Work review.

2.2 Research aims

Overall this research should provide the Scottish Executive with information regarding students' motivations towards choosing social work generally, and their course. More specifically the research objectives are:

  • To explore the reasons why the students are choosing to do social work.
  • To assess whether there are differences in motivations among different student subgroups.
  • To assess the impact that the Care in Scotland campaign had (specifically the 'World Tour' element aimed at young school-leavers last Autumn) on persuading them to take up a Social Work Degree.
  • To assess the impact of the possible availability of the Executive's incentive scheme on persuading them to take up a Social Work Degree.
  • To assess whether any other of the Executive's activities to improve the recruitment & retention of staff in the sector had any influence on their decision to embark on a Social Work Degree.
  • To assess perceptions about and aspirations for the role of the social worker and the role of social work in modern society.

1 Survey of Care Services as a Career - Wave 3, TNS System Three on behalf of the Scottish Executive (March 2004)